For girls all over the world, high school is a daunting experience. For girls in their final year of primary school in Lesotho, high school can also be a dangerous time leading to teenage pregnancy, HIV transmission, abuse, and trauma. The Pearl Program, funded by Pearls4Girls, helps to prepare girls to enter high school in Lesotho with the knowledge and self-esteem to resist peer pressure and make healthy decisions.
Sixty girls, known as ‘Pearl Girls’, from at least five different primary schools participate in eight training weekends from March – November. Each weekend focuses on a specific theme, such as psychosocial support, healthy relationships, sexuality, and leadership. Half of these weekends are "sleepover" weekends where the girls have to opportunity to bond and create lasting memories. In the second half of the program, older girls from other Help Lesotho programs join to the Pearl Program as mentors.
The girls have a blast learning and engaging in discussions, role plays, activities and games. Each ‘Pearl Girl’ receives a workbook of additional activities and reflection questions to help them process what they learn and apply it to their lives. The girls keep these workbooks as a useful tool to review when they experience difficult decisions in the future.
Every "Pearl Girl" is empowered to address significant challenges before they hit the difficulties of high school.
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PEARL GIRL SPOTLIGHT
Nyapo, age: 13
Nyapo is a star student in her grade 7 class. When her teacher heard about Help Lesotho’s ‘Pearl Program’, she recommended that Nyapo be included. Nyapo says she was nervous on the first day because she did not know many of the other girls in the program, but it did not take long for her to feel at home. “I am very shy, and being around new people made me feel very uncomfortable. I have made new friends now and I’m excited because we are like a family.”
Nyapo is hoping to learn about her emotions from the program. She wants to understand why she feels things so strongly. She is a sensitive person but has been struggling to express herself to her parents.
Nyapo is afraid that her family’s poverty is going to have a negative impact on her grades. Many students now have cell phones that allow them to do research, but Nyapo’s parents cannot buy a phone for her. Nyapo used to borrow a phone from her peers, but now everyone has become competitive about their grades and since Nyapo is a strong student, they see this as a chance to get ahead. Nyapo is frustrated about this situation and she is hoping the Pearl Program will help her stay focused on her goals.
At the April Pearl Program weekend, the girls participated in a session on ‘Grief and Loss’. In Lesotho, it is common for grief to be supressed and ignored. Despite the trauma that exists in all families due to the HIV/AIDS crisis, people do not talk about their grief. After the session, Nyapo expressed relief about understanding why she feels the way she does. Nyapo’s aunt, whom she was very close with, recently passed away. There had been a conflict between Nyapo’s mother and aunt and they did not speak for two months before her aunt died. Nyapo felt that this was somehow her fault because she was part of the reason for the argument. Nyapo now knows how to deal with her feelings of guilt and grief. She is going to keep talking with her peers so they can all support one another.